House week in review


Fitz Steele - State Rep.



In my conversations back home and here at the capitol, I often hear two common concerns expressed in conjunction with one another — high school students need more affordable pathways to college and workforce training, and Kentucky’s industries need more highly skilled, well-trained workers to expand their businesses as the economy improves.

This week, I joined House leaders in targeting these urgent issues through a bold new plan that would allow thousands of Kentucky’s high school students to emerge from a state community and technical college both career-ready and debt-free.

As detailed in House Bill 626, the “Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program” would fill the gap in tuition costs for new students enrolling in a Kentucky Community and Technical College (KCTCS) after federal grants and the state scholarships have been factored in. This puts a two-year college degree within each reach of every graduating high school student while also ensuring Kentucky’s industries have the skilled workers they need to thrive.

Here’s how it would work: Students participating in the “Work Ready” program would be required to enroll in at least 12 college credit hours per semester; maintain a 2.0 grade point average; and stay enrolled continuously, unless an absence of up to six months is approved under the bill’s guidelines. The eligibility for the scholarship would end once the student has received money for six semesters; has an associate’s degree or is four years removed from high school.

The program would be limited to students enrolling in-state immediately after high school or those receiving a GED before turning 19. Student loans and work-study programs would not count against the scholarship, but these funds could not be used for books or other related college costs, like travel or housing.

While creating a pipeline of qualified, skilled workers with a technical degree, it’s also our hope that the “Work Ready” program will help serve as a launch pad for those students wishing to attend a four-year university after receiving their two-year, community college degree.

This important investment in our students – and the future economy of Kentucky – is slated to cost $12 million in the first year of the next two-year budget plan, and $20 million in the next. That’s relatively inexpensive when compared to the more than $100 million in state borrowing that Gov. Bevin advocated for workforce development construction in his two-year budget plan. We’ve yet to see details on how he would use those funds, but we hope to find some common ground with him in this comprehensive effort to place people over bricks and mortar as we continue to develop an alternative budget plan in the House.

Our concerns to provide opportunities for postsecondary education also extend to those students who are often most highly at risk for having their dreams at a higher education pushed aside – those children whose biological parents are deceased or have been adopted by a blood relative or assigned a permanent legal guardian after their parents’ rights were terminated due to abuse or neglect. House Concurrent Resolution 133 urges Kentucky’s postsecondary institutions to consider these hardships in making admissions, scholarship and grant decisions. This resolution, which was approved Thursday on the House floor by a 90-0 vote, simply asks our schools to find a way to help these families who are working hard to allow hope to overcome adversity.

In other action this week, the House voted to make sure that those convicted of attempted murder of Kentucky law enforcement officers or firefighters in Kentucky would have to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. This legislation places this offense on par with other violent offenses and would be applied regardless of whether the officer or firefighter is seriously injured. House Bill 137 was approved 90-0 and now moves to the Senate for its consideration.

We also passed House Bill 210, sponsored by state Rep. Wilson Stone of Scottsville, which amends state law to include assaults on local health department personnel within the offense of third degree assault. Additionally, House Resolution 147, also sponsored by Rep. Stone, reauthorizes the House Tobacco Task Force through the end of the year to address issues facing the tobacco industry in Kentucky.

Other bills approved on the House floor and sent on to the Senate for its consideration include:

House Bill 384, sponsored by state Rep. Tom Riner of Louisville, a bill that would allow local governments to create voluntary health and fitness incentive programs for their fire and law enforcement personnel;

House Bill 456, sponsored by state Rep. Joni Jenkins of Louisville, a measure that requires schools with students in grades five through 12 to adopt a drug abuse prevention program that includes instruction on the dangers of abusing opioids, including legal painkillers like hydrocodone and illegal substances such as heroin.

House Bill 441, sponsored by state Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, which emphasizes local control and authorizes the city of Lexington to raise the hotel room tax in Fayette County to help fund a $250 million expansion and renovation of the Lexington Convention Center.

We’re more than two-thirds through this 60-day legislative session and our days in the Capitol grow even longer as we prepare final details on the House’s budget proposal, while also considering the fate of more than 1,200 bills and resolutions filed in the Kentucky General Assembly during the 2016 session. Your opinions and insight are important to me, and I encourage you to email me at [email protected] or leave a message by calling toll-free, 1-800-372-7181. I’m proud to represent the people Harlan and Perry counties in 84th House District and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

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Fitz Steele

State Rep.

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